Spring Cleaning for Your Career

Break out of your box: If you've been in the same role for more than a decade and the job's starting to smell a bit musty, it could be time to whip out the cleaning supplies. Such was the case for Chris Heinz, 41, who has been an architect for 17 years. Ready to leave the design trenches behind, the Kansas City, Kan., resident wrote a description of the position he wanted — at another company, as a design director who oversees the work of other architects — and successfully pitched it to the partners at Hollis & Miller Architects, a midsize firm in Overland Park.

"The thing that drew me to pursuing a different role was that I enjoyed working with people more in a collaborative way, helping them understand bigger-picture issues and how design affects construction costs," he said.

Four years later, he's loving the new digs as well as the juggling act of advising his colleagues on as many as 30 projects a year, often half a dozen at once, as opposed to the four to six designs he created annually in his previous gig.

Teach what you love: Another way nose-to-the-grindstone types can step out of their hidey-holes is to lead training programs. After donning a white coat for more than two decades, chemist John Kressaty, from Haskell, N.J., welcomed this opportunity.

"Besides being a chemist and formulating, I like being out there and talking to people," says the 50-year-old scientist, who works at 3LAB, an Englewood, N.J., company that develops high-end skin care products. "I'm not satisfied just sitting in a lab making a sample."

A five-year veteran of the company, Kressaty spends 20 percent of his work schedule traveling to retailers such as Barneys New York and Selfridges in London to teach salespeople about his products' ingredients.

Do some good in the world: Okay, so maybe the only redeeming thing about your job is the paycheck. But you might change your tune if you could convince the powers-that-be to support you in launching a department-wide community food drive or youth mentoring program.

Heinz, the architect, has been a driving force behind his employer's recent push to create greener, more sustainable building designs. To help his firm practice what it preaches, he's spearheaded an office-wide recycling program and encouraged colleagues to use dishes and silverware in the lunchroom (courtesy of the firm) rather than disposable plates and utensils.

Put it in writing: To sell management on your spring cleaning scheme, some research is in order. Find examples of other organizations that have successfully rolled out a similar project, position or do-goody program. If proposing an initiative that will require a team effort (such as Kuhl's technical writing committee), find allies among your co-workers before you go to management.

Consider not just how your idea will benefit you, but the company overall. Will it raise morale? Boost productivity? Improve the firm's public profile? Back up your argument with any facts and articles about comparable programs you can. Then make your best case in writing, detailing how you'll execute your idea, on what timeline, and what resources you'll need.

Start by clearing one shelf: "It's not up to your boss to recognize your glory and then lift you up," says Kuhl, who now works as special projects director at Park Seed Company in Greenwood, SC. "The most important thing about career development is recognizing that you own your career."

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